Movie Review – Split

A powerhouse performance from James McAvoy keeps Split from sinking – but only just.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

There was a point during the mid-noughties (roughly around the time that Lady in the Water sunk like a stone) that M Night Shyamalan’s less than favourable critical appraisals were something of a punchline. A series of duds that began with 2004’s The Village and ended with 2013’s After Earth certainly washed away any goodwill the world collectively felt towards Shyamalan for his impeccable work on 1999’s The Sixth Sense and 2000’s Unbreakable.

Since then, Shyamalan has retreated from the spotlight and returned to his forte; crafting grungy B-movie horror/thrillers that are dark, twisted and a little humorous. 2013’s The Visit showed promising signs; and his new movie Split continues this upward trajectory.

The movie concerns itself with Kevin (James McAvoy), a man who suffers with dissociative identity disorder – or a split personality to you and me. Kevin has 23 distinct personalities rattling around inside his noggin, from flamboyant fashionista Barry and violent OCD sufferer Dennis to prim and proper Patricia and 9-year-old kid Hedwig. Dennis decides to abduct Casey (The Witch’s Anya Taylor-Joy) and two of her classmates, locking them in an underground room where they are to await a grisly fate – being eaten by a mysterious entity only known as ‘The Beast’.

A solidly crafted psychological thriller, Split has at least one deadly arrow in its quiver in McAvoy. The Scottish actor brings menacing and nuanced emotion to the film, which allows the audience to distinguish between identities through something as small as a curled lip or head tilt.

McAvoy often has to switch personalities mid-conversation and on a couple of occasions in the same take; it might sound trivial but there is power in his ability to switch so effectively, darkening his brow when Dennis bubbles to the surface or summoning childlike innocence in Hedwig. It’s a committed role that requires a lot of physicality and he absolutely aces it.

Taylor-Joy is pretty good too, even if her character is too often forgotten about. Casey and her friends mainly just act as props for most of the movie, devoid of the urgency we saw in Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character in 10 Cloverfield Lane or the emotion of Brie Larson’s in Room. Betty Buckley plays Dr Karen Fletcher, Kevin’s physiatrist, and her role is essentially to provide jargon that drives the plot forward – she might as well be called Dr Janet Exposition.

It’s also hard to ignore Split’s inherent flaw, which is that it uses mental illness as a byword for villainy. Granted, there is at least a vague attempt at framing Kevin as redeemable and Shyamalan does make an effort to comment on the lasting impacts of trauma and abuse – but it doesn’t resonate as strongly as it could have, sadly.

At the end of the day, Split will probably divide (or split, har har) opinions. It’s far from Shyamalan’s best work, but it does dish out some decent thrills and I wouldn’t dissuade fans of the director or genre from going to see it. Just strap yourself in for a good film plagued with problems (and a really dumb twist right at the end – but c’mon, it’s Shyamalan, what did you expect?)

Split is available in Australian cinemas from January 26

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2017

Movie Review – Nocturnal Animals

Recalling Kubrick and Antonioni, Nocturnal Animals is haunting, beautiful and singular.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Charlie Lewis

It’s rare that you enter the final third of a movie with no idea how it will resolve. I don’t mean being able to predict exactly what will happen. Most films, good or bad, will approach their conclusion with a limited number of options – the criminal will be caught, or they won’t, the couple will overcome what has separated them, or they won’t – and the enjoyment comes from seeing how cleverly, unexpectedly or satisfyingly they make the journey to whichever option they’ve chosen. So as Nocturnal Animals wound down there was something thrilling about the open water feeling; not only was I not sure what would happen at the end, I didn’t know what could happen at the end. What would a satisfying conclusion even look like for these characters?

Susan (Amy Adams) is a successful gallery curator, living in her beautiful, empty house with her handsome, indifferent husband. She receives a package from her ex-husband, Ed (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she abandoned in “a horrible way”. It’s the manuscript of his first novel. It’s a violent, existential howl of brutality and revenge set it rural Texas. The book is dedicated to her, and its title comes from a nickname he gave her. Susan reads the book alone in her house, during her long bouts of insomnia. Whether she is thrilled or moved by the book, or she thinks it may represent some kind of veiled threat to her, we don’t know. It’s doubtful she does either.  Regardless, she can’t stop reading.

There’s a lovely interplay between reality and artifice here – the contrast between Susan’s empty urban comfort and the vivid cruelty of Ed’s book. Susan has become numb to the many lies she is living and Ed’s book is bracingly raw and honest.

Director Tom Ford is a master stylist, with his camera luxuriating on landscapes, interiors and the human form with equal pleasure. The cast is fantastic. Gyllenhaal plays the dual role of Ed and the main character in his novel. In both cases, you believe the character is capable of worse things than he’d like to admit.  Michael Shannon adds to his list of creepy authority figures and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is compellingly repellent as the chief antagonist. Adams especially is wonderful.

So is Nocturnal Animals a chilly relationship drama, a brutal thriller, a revenge horror film, or something else entirely? How the film resolves that question will madden some viewers, but it would be far more of a disappointment if a film this beautiful let its audience entirely off the hook.

Nocturnal Animals is available in Australian cinemas from November 10

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Movie Review – The Neon Demon

Nicolas Winding Refn returns with another exercise in style over substance – and I kinda loved it.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Drenched in glitter, gold body paint and big cat fetishism, Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon is destined to divide audiences directly down the middle. You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it for exactly the same reasons. Which side you fall on depends on your tolerance for abstract plotting, garish cinematography and on the nose messaging that screams, “this is symbolism!”

Elle Fanning plays Jesse, a 16-year-old small town girl with dreams of being a model, who moves to LA and finds herself swamped by an industry instantly captivated by her sharp doll-like visage and flawless porcelain skin. Living out of a seedy motel run by Hank (Keanu Reeves) and with the help of friendly make-up artist Ruby (Jena Malone), Jesse’s arrival doesn’t go unnoticed by her peers; envious glances from Gigi (Australia’s Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (another Aussie Abbey Lee) signal their fears that their expiration date has already been and gone.

About halfway into the film, Alessandro Nivola’s fashion designer comments that “beauty isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” If that doesn’t spell out Refn’s intentions then and there, get out while you still can because this film isn’t for you. Like Refn’s 2013 effort Only God Forgives, The Neon Demon is all about style over substance.

It’s unashamedly artsy as fuck and doesn’t even attempt to disguise it. You’ll be entranced, repulsed and slightly aroused, sometimes all at the same time – an odd sensation that Refn would no doubt be delighted to discover his film was eliciting.

The pace is achingly slow, but the film itself is never boring. Every frame is lit, staged and composed with such meticulous purpose and lavish detail that the final product resembles a glossy fashion magazine sprung to life. Even when there isn’t much happening in terms of plot, Refn holds you in a hypnotic trance of colour and noise.

If nothing else, you can always marvel at Natasha Braier’s arresting cinematography or let Cliff Martinez’s pulsating cocktail of dark disco and honeyed synth invade your ears. Psychedelic kaleidoscopes and shimmering, dreamlike vistas compliment a plot that is purposely ambiguous and slight at first. Refn holds a lot in reserve before unleashing a batshit insane third act that strikes like a coiled snake waiting to lash out and sink its teeth.

Truth is, I could sit here all day and wax lyrical about this film until I’m blue in the face, but it wouldn’t make a lick of difference to roughly half of everyone who sees it. The simple fact is that a lot of people will be turned off The Neon Demon just as they have been in the past with Refn’s prior work. And whilst it isn’t quite an all-timer like Drive, it certainly outstrips whatever the hell was going on in Only God Forgives.

The Neon Demon is available in Australian cinemas from October 20

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Movie Review – The Girl On The Train

The Girl On The Train has a cast worth catching a ride for, but its frustrating filmmaking is better left at the station.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

From the window of the train she catches to and from New York every day, Rachel (Emily Blunt) – a bitter, self-destructive alcoholic – avoids looking at her visible old home, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) still lives happily with his new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) and their newborn child. Instead she focuses her attention on their neighbours Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans), an attractive young couple she fantasises about and projects the perfect marriage she desperately wishes she still had. One day everything changes when Rachel witnesses Megan having an affair, not long before Megan is reported missing. An entangled web connecting everyone is uncovered, and Rachel begins to question her own involvement in the disappearance.

Let’s get one thing out of the way, since everyone has been so premature to make the comparison –Gone Girl this is not. Similar themes of infidelity, betrayal and violence within marital ties drew The Girl on the Train an immediate relation to David Fincher’s 2014 hit murder mystery; a success story the producers were no doubt hoping to recreate when the rights to adapt Paula Hawkins’ debut novel were acquired. It all seemed rather promising, but disappointingly Tate Taylor’s (The Help, Get on Up) flat thriller packs a few too many problems on board that not only prevent it from touching GG’s irreverent finesse, but threaten to derail it completely.

First and foremost, it becomes clear early on that the diary-entry format of Hawkins’ book simply does not translate well to the silver screen; at least not without some artistic liberties that Taylor and co. have failed to capitalise on. On page there’s plenty of room to breathe and time to get to know these women and the men in their lives, but here we’re introduced to all six major players in a short space of time, challenging non-readers to keep up with the multitude of connections between each. There’s a bit too much content for too little a running time, forcing it to wind up very talky and expository, and intermittent flashbacks only further confuse an already convoluted story. This at least means there’s no opportunity for boredom – close attention is necessary to a near-exhausting level.

After an overstuffed setup, The Girl on the Train settles more comfortably into its middle stretch and becomes intriguing, as red herrings are thrown about and the mystery becomes a true curiosity. Tragically though, the answer becomes disappointingly obvious before the big twist is revealed, and it can’t help but feel unsatisfying and a little too convenient.

Thankfully, a quality cast keep this train on the tracks, even if they aren’t really given the characterisation they deserve. Emily Blunt is the obvious standout; even if she is perhaps a bit too pretty to play the detrimental Rachel, she’s sympathetic and gutsy enough to root for, for the most part. But the rest match her in their well suited roles; especially recent breakouts Rebecca Ferguson, the scornful new wife, and Haley Bennett, whose interesting backstory and fate is sadly undercut by the lack of impact her big moments need.

It all sounds rather negative, but truth be told The Girl on the Train is not terrible. Though frustrating and easy to pick apart upon reflection, the film is a trashy good time that does genuinely keep you hooked until its reveal.

The Girl On The Train is available in Australian cinemas from October 6

Image courtesy of EntertainmentOne Films

Movie Review – Blair Witch

Just when you thought found footage was dead, we’ve come full circle back to where it all started – and it might actually make you shit your pants this time.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan

Two decades after his sister Heather went missing while shooting a documentary about a local legend known as the Blair Witch, James Donahue (James Allen McCune) discovers a YouTube video that appears to be new footage of her experiences in the woods. His curiosity finally getting the better of him, James convinces his friends Lisa (Callie Hernandez), Peter (Brandon Scott) and Ashley (Corbin Reid) to meet the uploader of the video and venture into the forest to investigate. Shooting a documentary of their own, they soon begin to regret their inquisitiveness as unsettling occurrences reveal the legend of the Blair Witch to be lamentably true.

Love it or loathe it, The Blair Witch Project has had an astounding impact since it took the world by storm back in 1999. Made on a shoestring budget and marketed as the product of a real event, not fiction, it broke the box office worldwide, popularised the found footage subgenre, and built fear by showing us as little as possible; leaving it up to our imaginations to conjure up the monster lurking in the darkness.

Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett’s (You’re Next, The Guest) surprise sequel Blair Witch is, save for the same story beats, almost entirely the opposite. Aware that the original’s guerrilla style, unglamorous techniques and slow pacing just isn’t going to cut it with modern horror audiences, they’ve glossed it up with an abundance of technology and made the scares considerably more frequent and in-your-face. Wingard and Barrett aren’t the least bit concerned with authenticity, or reinventing the wheel, or much of anything really; they’re simply here to do one thing – scare the pants off you.

Our team of amateur filmmakers assembles itself, learns of some of the sinister tales and legends of the Witch, then bravely journeys into the woods. It mirrors the setup of the first, only this time there’s twice as many teens to expend, and thus half the character development. Sadly, these bland kids are copied and pasted directly from the contemporary horror template, and none are given enough time to form any kind of characterisation; they’re simply there to articulate exposition. The familial link to the first film is flimsy and far-fetched, and begs the question of why James would be stupid enough to follow in the footsteps of his sister.

When things first start to go bump in the night, there’s a disheartening amount of cheap jump scares, but soon the threat becomes real and a supreme dread sets in. There’s been sixteen years of evolution in horror since the original and it’s all unleashed here. The sound department must be applauded for their design; this is the most impressively unnerving earful copped from a horror in years.

It’s frustratingly light on explanation, lacks the subtle smarts of its archetype and is a huge deal of substance short of achieving greatness, but it’s hard to complain too much when Blair Witch is what so many of its peers can only pretend to be – genuinely scary.

Blair Witch is available in Australian cinemas from September 15

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Don’t Breathe

No need to hold your breath… Don’t Breathe might not be the scariest film to come out in the last 20 years, but it‘s still worth seeing.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

Imagination is the true embodiment of fear and that’s exactly how Don’t Breathe approaches its subject matter. Although one of the better additions to the horror genre in recent years, it still proves to be less frightening than expected.

Following the lives of three delinquents who make a living by robbing various homes and selling the items stolen; Rocky, Alex and Money are desperate to leave their miserable Detroit lifestyles for the sunny Californian coast. After receiving a tip, Money (Daniel Zovatto) informs the crew of their next and potentially last job of stealing from an Army veteran who is harbouring $300,000 in settlement money. They soon discover the man is blind and decide to break into the house the following night. However, nothing is all that it seems, and circumstances take a turn for the worst.

At only 88 minutes long, the film has a nice pace of quickly establishing the scene before moving onto what we all came to see – a blind man turning the tables on those who thought it smart to prey on the weak. Whilst Money and Alex are almost ignored in their character motivations and developments, the focus on Rocky (Jane Levy) holds our attention to the screen as we begin to identify with her the most. We understand her reasons for the pathway she has taken and we can relate to the reasons why the gang is literally robbing the blind. On the opposite spectrum, we also appreciate the emotional turmoil of the blind man and what has lead him to become the person he is today. This altogether made it more interesting to watch, as you have these conflicting moral questions produced of who’s really in the wrong and if anyone is in the right with their actions.

But was it scary? The trailer made it look horrifying. It depends on who you ask, but in my opinion, Don’t Breathe had more of a constant intensity, rather than an all-out terrifying horror factor. There was one unpredictable, horrifying scene that demonstrated the power of the imagination, and it’s here that director Fede Alvarez excels. He allows the audience to think the worst by leaving us in the dark. But unfortunately, my thoughts were far scarier than what actually occurred.

There were moments that made me groan and question the character motivations behind it, but overall  I was happy with how the plot unfolded. However, whoever called it the best American horror film in twenty years was way off the mark. There are plenty of other great, smart horror pieces that have come out and surpass the efforts of this film (It Follows, The Cabin in the Woods). Nevertheless, I’d still recommend seeing it, if only to see the ending and discuss who’s side you would take.

Don’t Breathe is available in Australian cinemas from September 1st 

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Movie Review – The Shallows

The only aspect that’s truly shallow is the film’s weak storyline.

⭐ ⭐
Josip Knezevic

Sony has teamed up with one of the hottest stars on the planet and one of the hottest surfing brands right now to create, “Ripcurl: The Movie”. Sorry, I got that wrong. It’s The Shallows starring Blake Lively, but unlike what the trailer suggests, this film is more of an advertisement for surfing. It’s as if the people behind Victoria’s Secret remade Jaws.

The premise surrounds the life of a young medical student Nancy Adams (Lively) who travels out to a secluded beach in Mexico following the passing of her mother. The beach has a particular meaning to her, as it is the same beach her mother surfed after finding out she was pregnant with her. But very soon, the beach begins to take on a different meaning as a large great white shark begins to stalk and hunt her down.

Although I was quietly excited by this film’s trailer, I was unfortunately met with everything I hoped it wouldn’t be and more. What I hoped it could be was a well written story filled with tension. What I received was Blake Lively modelling in bikinis. Coupled with numerous amounts of product placement, the whole affair – for the beginning, at least – felt akin to that of one large advertisement.

But what about when the shark comes? Well, thankfully that’s when the story picks up the pace, but it’s not long before it stumbles over its own heels. There are numerous convenient moments that occur in an attempt to build suspense. I challenge anyone to debate how the final act is not one of the most fortunate resolutions that has occurred in cinema history – perhaps even besting Vin Diesel’s leap of faith in Fast and Furious 6. The emotional connection between Nancy’s grief for her mother is also desperately pushed for the audience to connect, but fitting to the film’s title, there’s not much to grasp at.

At least throughout it all the film looks gorgeous. The bright blue colours of the ocean have been captured well and the shark has also been brought to life with grace. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to warrant spending your money at the cinema.

The Shallows is available in Australian cinemas from August 18

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures

Alfred Hitchcock Film Festival – Psycho

Equal parts revolutionary and risqué in its time, Psycho has gone on to embed itself in our collective cinematic lexicon and reshape horror for over half a century.

Rhys Graeme-Drury

Think Alfred Hitchcock and you think Psycho. It’s arguably Hitchcock’s zenith, arriving at a point where the English auteur had already made a name for himself as the master of suspense with thrillers North by Northwest and Rear Window. But with Psycho, the director steered his career, and legacy, into newer, altogether bloodier waters that shocked and outraged audiences at the time.

It’s a film that, at first, bears all the hallmarks of a quintessential Hitchcock film; the gorgeous blonde in Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane coupled with the voyeuristic menace and underlying mystery of unsettling motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Where Psycho catches you out is the infamous shower scene in which the director rips the rug out from underneath the audience and flips the narrative on its head.

3 minutes long and composed of over 70 angles and 50 cuts, the shower scene famously took over a week to piece together. Constrained by the choice of using black and white, the production crew employed the use of chocolate syrup to emphasise the contrast of the dark blood on the stark white bath. It’s also a sequence that posed a lot of issues for Hitchcock with the censors who were worried about the shocking violence and the nudity.

In fact, censors opposed a lot of Hitchcock’s choices during the production process, but thankfully the director held firm. The film is now infamous for the numerous milestones it lay down en route to attaining iconic status with cinephiles the world over. It marks the first time that a toilet was depicted flushing onscreen (how scandalous!) as well as reaching new levels of depravity by showing Sam (John Gavin) and Marion sharing a bed in the opening scene, despite not being a married couple (for shame!).

Tasked with preserving the central mystery surrounding Norman’s overbearing mother, Hitchcock was also forced to engage some inventive camera techniques, such as the odd, overheard shot used to frame the murder of Detective Arbogast (Martin Balsam). The intricate pulley system that ran parallel to the stairs and sat atop the hallway, thus concealing the secret, achieved the desired effect, but it took weeks to prepare and test.

In fact, preserving secrecy and mystery was an important part of the distribution process. Trailers told audiences that Psycho was a film that had to seen from the beginning, or not at all. Even after the film had hit theatres, Hitchcock was adamant that latecomers should be denied entry, citing that they wouldn’t receive the full experience. It’s a shame that this practice isn’t still upheld! Nowadays we’re used to films like The Force Awakens being shrouded in secrecy, but not even JJ Abrams is that stringent on the secrets, particularly with social media causing spoilers to spread like wildfire.

They might seem cute by 2016 standards, but the boundaries that Hitchcock pushed on Psycho certainly titillated audiences at the time. Initial mixed reviews were cast aside as reams of people flocked to see what all the hullabaloo was about. This in turn caused numerous publications to reconsider their verdicts; Time Magazine’s lukewarm appraisal was famously altered to include superlatives such as masterly following the larger-than-expected box office takings.

Not even a slew of sequels, a misguided shot-for-shot remake and a spin-off TV movie have diluted the lasting impact of Psycho. Looking back, the film isn’t just a singular work of art that caused a storm. Through Psycho, Hitchcock redefined the horror genre, practically spawning what we now call the slasher in the process. Who can say that the careers of Wes Craven, John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper would have been as ripe had it not been for the legacy of Psycho?

You can catch Psycho on the big screen at Windsor Cinema Friday 29 July & Sunday 7 August

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Movie Review – Money Monster

Jodie Foster returns to the director’s chair for Money Monster; a taut, nail-biting thriller that stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

Clooney plays Lee Gates, an obnoxious jerk who hosts a daytime stock market TV program called, you guessed it, Money Monster. Roberts co-stars as Patty, the long-suffering director who struggles to get Gates to stick to the script – but when Kyle (Jack O’Connell), a disgruntled working-class viewer who lost money on a tip Gates provided, rocks up to the studio and decides to hold everyone hostage live on air, Patty and Lee must work together to defuse the situation and get to the bottom of Kyle’s recent financial tailspin.

Money Monster is a strange breed; on the one hand it works as a perfectly serviceable, white-knuckle hostage thriller that passes in almost real-time. The characters are broadly drawn but generally likeable, and Foster wastes no time in setting up the tense on-air Mexican standoff between Lee and Patty, Kyle, and the surrounding police squad commanded by Captain Powell (Giancarlo Esposito).

On the flipside, Foster also tries her hand at adding an edge of dark humour to the movie; whilst some of the gags land and perfectly highlight the absurdity of the situation, there are plenty of others than aimlessly sail past the target and will leave audiences scratching their heads. This hodgepodge of tones often causes Money Monster to feel like a confused beast that struggles to flourish at key moments in the narrative.

An element where the film does succeed is its scrutiny of Wall Street and all the accompanying lavishness that comes with it. Running concurrently to the siege is a subplot that concerns Diane (played by Outlander’s Caitriona Balfe), a PR agent who represents the company that wronged Kyle, and her attempts to uncover the backdoor dealings that robbed him, and so many others, of their hard-earned cash. It’s not as in-depth as The Big Short or as harrowing as 99 Homes, but Money Monster does an admirable job of shaping a cohesive critique and distrust of the ‘big banks’.

An impressive quartet of performances from Clooney, Roberts, O’Connell and Balfe are what really elevate this film to the next level. Clooney starts off snarky, but soon evolves into a much more sympathetic character come the end, whilst Roberts provides a decisive counterpoint as the calm and collected voice in his ear. It’s O’Connell (who audiences might recognise from ’71, Skins and Unbroken) who stands out as the star of the show; he’s a portrait of unpredictability and inner turmoil as he strides across the set with tears brimming in his fear-stricken eyes. He’s terrifying and enthralling all at the same time, showcasing the breadth of his acting talent throughout the taut 98-minute runtime.

A few tonal shifts can feel a little jarring, but sharp camerawork and some terrific performances from a collection of Hollywood heavy-hitters ensure that Money Monster is solid investment for moviegoers. Come for Clooney, but stay for O’Connell.

Money Monster is available in Australian cinemas from June 2

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

Movie Review – The Witch

There’s evil in the woods – grab your crucifixes and prepare for a hell of a time as the creepiest folktale in years is unleashed.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan 

1630’s New England. William (Ralph Ineson) and his family – pregnant wife (Kate Dickie), daughter (Anya Taylor-Joy), son (Harvey Scrimshaw) and twins (Ellie Grainger and Lucas Dawson) are banished from their Puritan Christian town for preaching their religious superiority. Months later, the family have built a house and farm next to a large, ominous forest and William’s wife has given birth. Soon after, the mysterious disappearance of the newborn child begins a series of bizarre and increasingly unnerving events, causing the family to turn on one another. Though the real force behind their undoing is something far more sinister – the black magic of a witch living in the woods…

The first thing you need to know before buying a ticket to see The Witch is that it is best that you know as little about the film as possible before entering the cinema. The second is that it is one of those very rare horror movies that will haunt you for days afterwards; if you’re easy to scare, get ready for some sleepless nights.

Debut director Robert Eggers must have a little satanic power of his own, because he’s managed to (witch)craft the scariest film in recent memory, possibly one to be remembered alongside the all-time classics of the genre. Traditional jump-scares are abandoned entirely for a gloomy, ever-growing sense of dread. It’s a genuinely uncomfortable experience, but an incredibly effective one that won’t leave you anytime soon.

The 17th century aesthetic is realised beautifully with visceral authenticity; the dull, washed out lighting emitted by the forever overcast sky perfectly sets an oppressive mood for our damned family. The old-timey 1.66:1 aspect ratio (framing vertically as opposed to horizontally) is equally effectual here as it was in last year’s Slow West, though here it has an almost claustrophobic feeling to it, as if designed to trap the viewer within this ghastly realm with no means of escape.

Eggers allows shots to linger on well past the point of suspenseful to become excruciating and terrifying, and every unnerving screech of Mark Korven’s fantastic score guarantees zero lapses in uneasy alertness. The dialogue – actually recreated from real 17th century writings – takes time to gain a grasp of, but is expertly utilised to further increase the authentic charm. Every careful detail seals Eggers as an enormously impressive writer and director to keep an excited eye on.

Almost equally astounding are the relatively unknown cast who comprise the cursed kin. Game of Thrones duo Ralph Ineson and Kate Dickie are both lovable and loathsome as the distraught parents, but it’s the kids who really shine here – especially first-timer Harvey Scrimshaw as the young son, who may or may not have something very dark and disturbing within him, and Anya Taylor-Joy, whose star-making performance carries much of the film.

The film’s final third is bound to have some viewing through their fingers; astonishingly unpredictable and achingly tense as Eggers ramps the freakishly evil happenings up to an 11. More than just a great horror, it’s a rich film with heavy themes – including a fear of God creating a fear of something much worse – that lingers long after the credits; I knew soon after that I had to see it again. Of course, films like this aren’t going to be for everyone; its slow build, lack of in-your-face frights and dense dialogue is bound to put off those with shorter attention spans. But for the naysayers, the film has been officially endorsed by The Satanic Temple as “a transformative satanic experience”. Abandon all faith ye who enter.

The Witch is available in Australian cinemas from March 17th 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2016